PFAS Litigation Floods Court Dockets

Polyfluoroalkyl substances; It’s a mouthful, which is why they go by the acronym, PFAS. These substances are also known as “forever chemicals” because they persist “forever” in groundwater, and thus in drinking water. For decades, PFAS chemicals were widely used in the manufacturing of household products and for industrial uses, leading to widespread contamination of groundwater, water treatment plants, and landfills across the U.S. As a result, PFAS contamination is an emerging environmental crisis across the country, which has given rise to litigation in many states.

PFAS are highly toxic, synthetic chemicals. They include household products such as Teflon and Scotchgard, but also include industrial applications such as aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) at airports and military bases. Historical use and discharge of these chemicals has allowed them to migrate into groundwater. Until recently, PFAS were not regulated by the EPA or local Water Boards. As a result, the presence of PFAS was not routinely tested for, and so the chemicals evaded environmental radar. The State of California has only recently established water quality standards for PFAS chemicals (primarily PFOA and PFOS). Under these regulations, water providers must notify residents and users of PFOA/PFOS detections exceeding 5.1 ppt (parts per trillion) and 6.5 ppt, respectively, and must treat or remediate water sources of detections reaching 10 ppt for PFOA and 40 ppt for PFOS. These regulations force closer scrutiny of water quality, resulting in increased litigation, both in California and nationally. It is anticipated that the EPA will eventually lower the permissible level of PFAS below the current guideline of 70 ppt. This will impact even more groundwater wells.

Treatment and remediation of PFAS are costly and can include activated carbon filtration or ion exchange technologies. Litigation seeks to shift the cost of these treatments away from the ratepayers, and back to the manufacturers of the chemicals and the polluters who disposed of them.

Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP attorneys have decades of experience in groundwater contamination cases. CPM has joined forces with other law firms to represent municipal and private water suppliers to assure the right to clean water for all. These cases are expected to continue for years to come. For more information about PFAS contamination, the author of this article can be reached at or by calling (310) 392-2008.


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